La Liga: where the top three could stumble

Right now, Barcelona have a sizeable lead (13 and 14 points, respectively) on Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, and with only 27 points left to play for are almost assured of winning the title.

However, all three teams have some tough fixtures ahead of them. Click through to see where they’re most likely to stumble.

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La Liga: Round 23 (projections)

Note: This is being published after the Mallorca/Osasuna game started – sorry. I wrote most of it up last night, but then I needed that little thing called sleep.

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Tracking Europe: Matchday 20-22

Tracking Europe: La Liga, Matchday 20-22

Something pretty catastrophic would have to happen for Barcelona and Real Madrid to fail to qualify for the UCL, but what about the other two spots? The competition for them is always heated, and this year, it doesn’t look like one of them will automatically go to Valencia.

So, throughout the season, I’m going to be tracking the five most likely contenders for those UCL spots, and recapping how their prospects look. Click through for matchdays 20-22.

Note: This is the fifth post in a series.

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On Resurgences

One of football’s favorite narratives is the “resurgence.” You can barely go a weekend without hearing about the resurgence of some team or player somewhere in Europe. The better the league, the bigger the hype.

Most of these so-called resurgences don’t actually amount to anything, because people tend to be looking for the wrong things. This post is inspired in particular by all the talk surrounding Real Madrid and Fernando Torres, but I’m not trying to pick on them in particular – they just happen to be the major talking points this season.

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Tracking Europe: half-season round-up

Something pretty catastrophic would have to happen for Barcelona and Real Madrid to fail to qualify for the UCL, but what about the other two spots? The competition for them is always heated, and this year, it doesn’t look like one of them will automatically go to Valencia.

So, throughout the season, I’m going to be tracking the five most likely contenders for those UCL spots, and recapping how their prospects look. Click through for a half-season round-up.

Note: This is the fourth post in a series. The first post detailing the teams I think are the most likely contenders can be found here.

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The Big Two vs. the Big Clubs

So outside Barcelona and Real Madrid, it’s probably fair to say that the four biggest and most successful clubs in Spain are Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla, and Valencia.

Athletic, along with Barcelona and Madrid, have spent every season since the league started in 1929 in the first division. Valencia have spent 78, Atlético 76, and Sevilla 69.

Collectively, these four have won the league 24 times of the 28 times neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona won it. They’ve come in runners up 25 of the 38 times neither Madrid nor Barcelona did. They make up 3-6 in the table of total games won through their history in the league, despite Sevilla having spent 9 less seasons in the first division than Espanyol.

Their ranks include the only Spanish teams outside of the big two to ever make it to the UCL final and to win the UEFA Cup/Europa League.

These are hugely, hugely dominant teams. Yes, Madrid and Barcelona tend to overshadow them, but these are four remarkably consistent clubs with real staying power. 

So how have they done against the big two lately?

Well, it’s kind of an interesting story.
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Tracking Europe: La Liga, Matchday 12

Something pretty catastrophic would have to happen for Barcelona and Real Madrid to fail to qualify for the UCL, but what about the other two spots? The competition for them is always heated, and this year, it doesn’t look like one of them will automatically go to Valencia.

So, throughout the season, I’m going to be tracking the five most likely contenders for those UCL spots, and recapping how their prospects look. Click through for matchday 11.

Note: This is the third post in a series. The first post detailing the teams I think are the most likely contenders can be found here.

Atlético Madrid

Result: Win (Granada 0-1 Atlético Madrid)
Change in position: None (2)

Atlético did end up winning this, but they weren’t very convincing, and I kind of felt like Granada might have deserved something out of this. They pressed forward throughout the game and actually had more possession, and once Atlético had a man sent off, it felt like they were just trying to hold on.

So on one hand, it’s tempting to predict an Atlético slump. On the other, though, it’s important to acknowledge that – as I said last week – these are the wins they need. You can’t go big every week, and all those 1-0 or 2-1 victories that you grind out over the course of the season despite not being particularly impressive on the day can end up being vital at the end.

They remain three points behind Barcelona and five ahead of Real Madrid.

Valencia CF

Result: Win (Valencia 2-1 Espanyol)
Change in position: 9 to 8 (will remain 9 if Rayo win tomorrow)

This was not a pretty game or a pretty win.

The ref handed out 14 yellows and 2 reds, many of which seemed unnecessary, and Valencia won in the 89′ when Soldado converted a controversial penalty call that led to two Espanyol players being sent off – one with a second yellow for the handball, and the other for dissent. Nobody looked very good, and Valencia really should have done better against an Espanyol side that’s been quite poor this season.

But they did win, and they did get the three points, and right now, points are more of Valencia’s problem than form is.

They current sit two points off Champions League qualification.

Sevilla

Result: Win (Sevilla 5-1 Real Betis)
Change in position: 10 to 7 (will be 8 if Rayo win tomorrow)

Well then.

This was just a slaughter. Betis were valiant, especially in the second half, but Sevilla just controlled the game. They scored in the first minute following an error from the keeper, and after that they were hungry and ruthless. Their passing was crisp, they got themselves out of tricky situations, and for once, they didn’t fall down when it came to finishing.

They were less impressive in the second half, but they still created chances and contained Betis, and when you’re 4-0 up at half time, that’s okay.

This was a very, very impressive display from Sevilla. It was nice to see the team that looked so promising at the start of the season again, especially against an opponent as strong as Betis (albeit a Betis coming off a rough couple weeks).

Sevilla sit two points off Champions League qualification.

Málaga

Result: Osasuna 0-0 Málaga
Change in position: None (5)

The alarm bells are definitely ringing. This was not good from Málaga. It’s not surprising, either, unfortunately.

Osasuna are very, very poor this season, and even away, Málaga should have been able to manage a win. They didn’t. In fact, they probably should have lost – Osasuna had a goal wrongly disallowed and were better overall.

As I said, it’s not surprising – Málaga don’t have enough depth, and I think their run of outstanding, logic-defying form is really coming to an end. I don’t expect them to have trouble staying up, but even a Europa spot at this point could be difficult.

They currently sit a point off CL qualification.

Levante

Result: Win (Deportivo La Coruña 0-2 Levante)
Change in position: 6 to 4

Like Málaga, Levante have clear weaknesses. Unlike Málaga, they keep plugging away anyway.

There was an element of luck in their win: Depor’s CBs both had to be substituted because of injury in the first 15 minutes of the game, and it definitely hurt their defense. They also had their keeper sent off after all their substitutions had been made, although their makeshift keeper didn’t end up being the deciding factor in the game.

However, a lot of this win was just what we’ve come to expect from Levante. They dug in their heels. Depor have more than double the possession and shots that Levante did, but ultimately, it didn’t matter.

Levante are currently 4th in the table.

Round Up

All the prospective contenders aside from Málaga got wins this week, and as I said last time, most were not playing particularly challenging teams. Still, these are important wins to get, and Sevilla in particular looked quite promising.

Looking Ahead

Next week will be dramatic and significant when it comes to Champions League qualification, since most of our contenders play each other and Levante play Barcelona.

Atlético Madrid v. Sevilla

This would be the game of the weekend if the weekend didn’t have several other great matches.

Atlético have been a strong side all season and are a force to be reckoned with, especially at home, but they looked less impressive this week and have a midweek game in Europa. Sevilla, on the other hand, have been inconsistent but are coming off a great win in the Sevilla derby, and will have a full week of rest.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sevilla manage to win this one.

Málaga v. Valencia

Both Málaga and Valencia have midweek games, but Valencia, who play Bayern Munich at home on Tuesday, will have a day of rest on Málaga, who go away to Zenit St. Petersburg. Based on two teams’ run of form, Valencia will probably manage to win this.

Levante v. Barcelona

Given the fight Levante put up against Madrid last weekend, Barcelona will be happy to have a real back line again – assuming neither Pique nor Puyol get injured midweek, that is.

This could be interesting, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Barcelona struggle here.

Here ends the round 12 recap. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time. You can find round 11 here, and round 10 can be found here.